In the book, authors Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan, both management consultants, provide several examples from corporations, along with explanations and steps that trend toward self-help, to illustrate their point. But the gist of the authors' contention is that in order to elevate your company's performance, you will have to change the perception of the company's future from "We'll continue to do the best we can, but as a company we'll never really succeed," to "We have come from behind and set the standard for the industry. We are people that work together, innovate and succeed."
Most people have a preconceived notion of how a situation will pan out. The real challenge to any change effort, according to the authors, is not in implementing the program of ideas, but getting those involved to alter what they "know" will happen.
"Statistical evidence shows that most significant change efforts fail," Zaffron and Logan write. "The reason for this is that regardless of the management interventions tried, the default futures of employees and leaders are still in place. The more things change, the more they stay the same."
Zaffron and Logan believe a company's future can be altered using their three laws of performance: 1) How people perform correlates to how situations occur to them; 2) How a situation occurs arises in language; and 3) Future-based language transforms how situations occur to people. How a "situation occurs" is a combination of how a person views the past--why things are the way they are--and the future--where things are going. According to the authors, everyone perceives a situation differently and is held back by opinions or issues that he or she keeps to him or herself. The key to improving performance is to get people to discuss openly what's holding them back and what to do about it. Then the group of individuals can begin talking about the future of the company with declarations that inspire action.
One example given in the book involves Northrup Grumman's aerospace operation in 2001. The company wanted to continue its growth and to do so needed to enter new markets, including reusable launch vehicles and space exploration systems. But, the company had a long track record in defense programs, such as bomber and fighter aircraft, and had not had a human space contract since the 1960s. The company's challenge was to make its engineers, scientists and senior managers perceive the market opportunity as doable, important and worthwhile rather than farfetched.
After four days of working toward this goal using the three laws of performance, 70 individuals from Northrup Grumman established a new future for the company that included space exploration. Once that future was declared, the individuals were inspired to be working for a company involved in space travel, according to Zaffron and Logan. "A new future that is compelling offers the opportunity to make a difference, individually and collectively." the authors write. "When everyone finds themselves in this situation, people pull together for the realization of that future and for each other's success."
While The Three Laws of Performance can be abstract at times, and some of the authors' confidence in their three laws seems far reaching (save the world and make a profit!), the results achieved by several corporations discussed in the book are persuasive. If you're not afraid to explore your own unsaid feelings or issues that might be holding your company back, nor hear and encourage your coworkers and employees to express their feelings, this book is worth picking up.
The solution to a problem is part of how the situation occurs. Most people are caught in the trap of acting on the solution, which creates the next problem--a cycle they never break. Further, the "business as usual" solutions don't impact how the situation occurs.
Translation: How employees perceive a situation has as much to do with a problem as the measurable facts, such as production rate, profitability or equipment efficiency. For instance, an employee may resist implementation of lean principles because he or she feels it will just require a bunch of busy work that results in little change. Managers can explore the reasons why the worker feels that way and from there work toward a solution that will ultimately shift how the worker views the situation from futile to promising.
Shannon Wetzel, Managing Editor